Friday, July 29, 2016

Handball

Ellie stared from the stands, dreaming of the goalkeeper. He was diving around, squelching the mud into his body. It wasn’t the first time she’d gone to watch him play; she knew there was something about him, something that entranced her.

A tap on her shoulder broke the spell; she'd forgotten that she wasn’t here alone. Ellie could tell Chrissy didn’t want to go watch a local football game in a soggy field; she’d been promised shopping and calamari.

“Which one is he anyway? The one you fancy.”

“I never said I fancied him; he’s just, he’s interesting.” Ellie pointed as discreetly as possible at the goalkeeper. “Him.”

Chrissy huffed. “He’s a six, a seven at best - what’s so interesting about him?”

“Just watch.”

They watched him in silence. He jumped and floundered; he wasn’t a good goalkeeper, and he was getting desperate. He was letting in goal after goal until one rebounded straight off him like a cannonball being fired.

“There! Did you see it?” Ellie tugged at Chrissy’s sleeve.

“Yeah, he saved a goal - very interesting Ellie.”

“Didn’t you see how?”

“No.”

“Were you even watching?”

Chrissy crossed her arms. She just didn’t get it. It was only football.

They watched the striker from the other team tear down the pitch. It seemed like he already had it in the bag but when the striker booted the ball towards the goalkeeper, he saved it again. This time Chrissy saw it.

“What was that?”

“You saw it too, right?” Ellie’s excitement bubbled up inside her.

“I know the goalkeeper is allowed to use his hands, but this is something else.”

The ball flew towards the goalkeeper again. It looked like he deflected it with his chest, though Ellie and Chrissy saw it again for themselves; an arm, a fist, shoot from the goalkeeper’s chest, punching the ball away.

“How are we the only ones who can see this?” Chrissy whispered.

“I don’t know, but he doesn’t know how to control it properly yet,” Ellie looked at Chrissy.

“You were right to bring me here. Do you think he knows what he is?”

Ellie’s eyes flashed red.

“I don’t think he does.”

“Your eyes, Ellie - careful.”

Ellie’s eyes turned blue once more. “Sorry, I guess he’s not the only one.”

Chrissy laughed. “We’ll talk to him, but I want lunch first, and that shopping trip you promised.” The thought of calamari made her stomach claw at her skin. “You know where he lives, right?”

“Of course.”





Friday, July 15, 2016

A Penny For Your Thoughts

‘A penny for them,’ Agnes says, just as she had some thirty-plus years ago when out on their first date. She’s said it many times in between too. It became their thing.

And whenever she said it, Jimmy’s thoughts returned to the icy winter night of big city bright lights – to the Italian restaurant – to the night he tried a little too hard – to the night he got himself into a tongue-tied tizzy that caused the wrong words to come out in the wrong order.

Jimmy had retreated to the sanctity of his shell, sure only of one thing: that he’d blown his chance. He felt marooned sitting there, alone amongst a hubbub of happiness.

So they ate in silence. 

It was Agnes who broke the spell.

‘A penny for them,’ she said, ‘for your thoughts.’

To anyone else he would have replied with a little white lie: ‘Oh, it’s nothing… really… I’m fine… just a little tired.’ 

Her voice was gentle, soft, and calming, so he told her the truth.

Agnes listened, and her eyes smiled at him. She let him finish; then told him she understood – not literally of course – but she would try to understand. She told him not to be so hard on himself, that he was doing a great job, that she still liked him, that she liked him even more now.

Agnes would use the phrase again and again over the years, whenever she sensed the moment when Jimmy’s mind-stuff needed lancing.

And this little game led on to others. Like the one where Agnes would make him sing a song for his supper. A few bars of Neil Diamond would soon have them dancing around the kitchen ballroom style, laughing and knocking into cupboards and not caring a jot; and when they ate, the food tasted scrummier than ever.

Or the times she would be making coffee and say, ‘Not yet, not before a poem,’ and Jimmy would select at random something from the only paperback of poetry he ever owned, and recite it in full-on Olde English – Lawrence Olivier style – even though it happened to be a discarded anthology of Canadian verse he’d found on the tube. It always made Agnes laugh, which made Jimmy laugh, and coffee never tasted sweeter.

But tonight, like almost every night for the last year now, Jimmy’s words don’t flow so easily; most times they don’t come at all. He just sits at the table.

‘A penny for them…’ Agnes repeats, softer, quieter this time… a whisper in his ear.

Nothing.

‘How about a song?’ she asks, ‘We’ve got a nice piece of fish tonight,’ and starts to hum the intro to Sweet Caroline.

Jimmy stares into space, his eyes glazed and lost, he doesn’t respond. He doesn’t respond to the mention of fish, not to the strange woman that he sees dancing around the room, and not to the ragged book of poetry that lies unopened on the table. 



Monday, July 4, 2016

In Kowloon

In my mind there is a bed,
starched and white and you lie
there, stirruped. I can’t
look. Standing at the window

my eyes fumble for a view,
and fake a movie cityscape:
the glamour of a highrise
Hong Kong skyline, non-specific

urban sprawl; hanzi hurled
across the fishstink of a market-
place in alien humidity.
They have sapped your strength,

tapped you with their needles,
drugged you blind in this
British military hospital.
The pain is a balloon; you

let it go, watch it bump across
the tide-washed sands of
Perranporth, puddled huge
with sky, float over the black

rocks at Gwithian, the littoral
of home, hang at the limit
of a cliff edge, where the thrift
cling on for dear life to their

babies bonneted in pink.
It is September; those lanes -
bordered with a cross of hedge
and granite bank - are beaded

red with bryony; sand between
your toes, walk down them now
and knock. It is tea-time
at Trevalga and they wait

to hear the answer: boy or cheel?







Friday, July 1, 2016

Waiting to meet Dylan Thomas

They mill around the desk, crotchety wasps, all of them, calling to the receptionist, making caustic asides, until finally relieved of their luggage by capable young men in tall hats, they stretch their livid lips into smiles and cross-fade to their rooms.

I do not smile. I’m waiting for Dylan Thomas. Feeling distanced from my own narrative, as if reliving a demoralising flashback, I’m waiting for a poet whom I love more than life itself, in order that we can speak, soul to soul, artist to artist. 

Yesterday, the managing editor of Mademoiselle introduced Candy Bolster to him. To Dylan Thomas! Over lunch they talked poetry and the rights to Under Milkwood. Candy mentioned all this with a breathless flourish in the elevator at eight this morning and a sob crawled from my throat before leaping, lemming like, into the space between our feet. Tears brimmed as I slid through the yawning lift door and sped towards the restroom.

I’m in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, waiting. Perhaps he is too stewed for breakfast. But tonight he will be at the White Horse Tavern, writing. And I will circle his table, like seaweed grasping for a mildewing buoy, and he’ll call, “join me in my office, will you not?” and we’ll talk about Sunday at the Mintons and he’ll tell me, “you occupied that New England spinster like the fucking Russians entering Berlin!” And how we will laugh. 

I’m waiting for Dylan Thomas as I know that I will marry a poet and it may as well be him.

He will be alone in the tavern, majestically scrawling into his tiny leather notebook. And I will approach the table and say, “my name is Sylvia Plath” and from that splintered moment onwards everything will be splendid and perfect.